Around The World – Taste&Travel Magazine For people who love to Read, love to Eat, and love to Travel Thu, 09 Jul 2020 21:40:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Around The World – Taste&Travel Magazine 32 32 Mad for Marseille Sat, 18 Apr 2020 18:52:44 +0000 In search of une vraie bouillabaisse.

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The throbbing centre of Marseille life is le Vieux Port, the Old Port, where hundreds of fishing vessels and pleasure boats bob on the blue water, masts swaying in the breeze.

In the morning, grizzled fisherfolk line the quai des Belges to sell their ultra-fresh catch from large ice-filled vats, as they have been doing for generations. Just behind is the ultramodern Ombrière canopy in polished steel by architect Norman Foster, reflecting the bustling seaside activity.

Le Vieux Port fish market

France’s oldest city has been an arrival point for newcomers since around 600 BCE, first settled by the Phocaean Greeks, then the Romans. Under Louis XIV, Marseille became France’s leading port. This is also where the Great Plague of 1720 arrived and then spread through Europe, wiping out 45,000 Marseillais in its path.

Immigrants later arrived from Spain, Italy, Algeria and Tunisia, giving the city a cosmopolitan spirit that remains today.

This melting pot of cultures is also reflected in a rich and varied cuisine, from the famed bouillabaisse to couscous, to simple street food like panisse — fried chickpea dough, a local stand-in for French fries.

Marseille is now a sprawling city, the second largest in France, but its tourist and coastal areas are easily navigable by tram, bus, subway, and, most agreeably, on foot.

On the quays lining both sides of the Old Port are cafés, restaurants, bars with fishermen sipping pastis, and shops selling savon de Marseille. At the mouth of the port, two imposing forts face each other: Saint-Nicolas on the south and Saint-Jean on the north.

Fort Saint-Jean, its oldest remaining tower built in the 15th century by Good King René, is a great place to begin a history lesson, as it is now attached to the spectacular Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilization, or MuCEM.

View from MuCEM terrace to Fort St Jean

The museum, designed by Rudy Ricciotti, was part of an extensive rebirth of the city in preparation for 2013, when Marseille was fêted as the European Cultural Capital. A number of temporary exhibitions augment the permanent displays of the history of the Mediterranean. Equally enjoyable is a simple stroll around the stunning terrace with incredible views through the filigree canopy — to the fort, the sea and in the other direction to the imposing neo-Byzantine Cathédrale de la Major.

Marseille’s most starred chef, Gérald Passedat, who thrills diners at his flagship restaurant Le Petite Nice, is in charge at MuCEM of a simple buffet-style restaurant and café called Le Môle.

Steps away from MuCEM, it’s fun to wander through le Panier, one of Marseille’s oldest districts, with its narrow, meandering alleys. The area was traditionally the first stopping point for waves of immigrants. Centre de la Vieille Charité, a former orphanage, is now a beautiful cultural centre, home to a range of exhibitions — one on Picasso on a recent visit – its enjoyment enhanced by the peaceful atmosphere of the courtyard surrounding a splendid chapel.

Back on the popular quai du Port, it can be tricky to find a great meal among the myriad restaurants lined up cheek by jowl. On a sunny day, the terrace of Au Bout du Quai, just down from fort Saint-Jean, is most inviting for its creative fish dishes. We sampled cod brandade with potatoes, pickled vegetables and pied de mouton mushrooms followed by rouget (red mullet) stuffed with herbs and beautifully presented on a bed of risotto topped with a flavourful emulsion. The soupe de poisson is also delicious, everything enhanced by the view of the port and of Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde basilica, poised majestically on the hill opposite.

Le Vieux Port with Notre Dame le la Garde, night time

Further down the quay, La Caravelle is a popular watering hole with locals, hidden up on the second floor of Hotel Bellevue, with funky nautical décor. Lucky for you if you can nab one of the few tables on its miniscule terrace with idyllic harbour views, where lunch features simple Provençal specialties like traditional aioli (garlic mayonnaise) served with cod and vegetables; petits farcis (stuffed vegetables) and a variety of fresh fish.

Originally, bouillabaisse was a humble fish stew prepared by fishermen using unsold fish of the day, simply boiled in seawater. Today it is one of Marseille’s prized delicacies available at many posh seaside restaurants, sometimes elaborated with luxury ingredients like lobster, turning this poor-man’s soup into something really over-the-top. In addition, many inferior versions abound, so in the 1980s, Chef Christophe Buffa of Le Miramar restaurant on quai du Port, and ten other restaurateurs, instituted the Marseille Bouillabaisse Charter to ensure the authentic bouillabaisse is prepared in a specific fashion, utilizing only certain ‘noble’ fish. You can see a little sign with the charter posted in many restaurants today, proving they are following the rules.

Bouillabaisse service, Restaurant Miramar

The noble fish normally consist of rascasse (a very ugly scorpion fish); rouget grondin (a type of red mullet); galinette (gurnard); Saint Pierre (John Dory); vive (weever); and congre (conger eel). The broth is made from local small rockfish; three variations on fennel: the vegetable, fennel seeds and a splash of Pastis; tomato; and orange zest, all boiled, reduced, then strained in a sieve. It’s a splendid dish presented in two filling courses: the soup, followed by the fish, served with toasts, which will be rubbed with garlic, dolloped with sauce rouille (spicy garlic mayonnaise) and grated Gruyère, then dropped into the soup to enrich it.  Le Miramar remains one of the top tables to enjoy une vraie (a true) bouillabaisse, especially on the terrace overlooking the port in fine weather.

And I highly recommend the entertaining and hands-on bouillabaisse cooking class with chef Buffa!

But excellent bouillabaisse and other fine fish specialties can be found further down along the corniche, our favourites including L’Epuisette, Le Péron, and Chez Fonfon on the adorable harbour called Vallon des Auffes.

Dining at l’Épuisette

High winds, that infernal Mistral, prevented us from venturing out on a boat to explore the spectacular coastline, the famous calanques (fjord-like inlets), and Chateau d’If, made famous in Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo. But that meant we were able to lunch at a new hotel-restaurant on the corniche, Les Bords de Mer, for simpler but still delicious fish dishes.

While looking out to sea and admiring the incoming ferry from Corsica, we enjoyed ultra-fresh carpaccio of line-caught mulet (grey mullet) garnished with capers, brown butter and smoked vinaigrette, followed by sea bass served with an intriguing combination of roasted fennel and cabbage, napped in a dark jus de daube (sauce of beef stew) garnished with fried sage leaves.

In 2019 Alexandre Mazzia was named Chef of the Year in France by the respected Gault & Millau guide. His] His towering figure dominates the small counter on view at his modest and refined restaurant called AM par Alexandre Mazzia, where he deftly and gracefully plates an astonishing array of tiny dishes, mostly based around vegetables and fish, in a series of surprise menus he calls “voyages.” Our excursion (the shortest) consisted of 27 exquisite dishes served in harmonious groupings. His cooking philosophy arises from a love of smoke, roasting and spice, influenced by his early upbringing in the Congo. Signature dishes include inventive combinations like smoked eel with chocolate; wild salmon and trout roe with smoked milk; even the raspberry sorbet palate cleanser is heightened by a lick of harissa. Mazzia himself is humble and soft-spoken as he accepts accolades from admiring diners.

Pizza is as ubiquitous in Marseille as in any large city, but Marseille can claim authentic bragging rights, given its large Italian population. Our Marseillais friend of Italian roots enthusiastically recommended La Mère Buonavista, a casual institution known to locals, near Place Castellane. The Sicilian family opened the place as an ice cream parlour, but it is now known for its fire-licked, chewy pizzas with an array of simple toppings. We loved one garnished with figatelli, a flavourful Corsican liver and pork sausage (Marseille is also a landing place for people from that picturesque island just to the south).

Le Vieux Port

Soap has been hand crafted in Marseille for over 600 years, typically following a special technique involving long boiling in a copper cauldron. While there were once hundreds of small factories making the famous savon de Marseille, today there remain only four: Fer à Cheval, Marius Fabre, Savonnerie du Midi (La Corvette) and Savonnerie du Sérail, plus numerous cheaper copies found at any street corner or market stall. To identify the authentic item, look for the stamp indicating 72% oil plus the stamp of the maker.

The dark green olive oil-based square bar is highly revered for bathing, of course, also laundry and general cleaning, but also for other near-miracle properties: jewelry shops recommend it to gently clean delicate chains and pendants, while others extol its virtues as an efficient spot-remover on fabrics.

Soap is just one of thousands of items available at France’s oldest quincaillerie, (hardware store), Maison Empereur, established in 1827, still fully functioning and beguiling with its creaky wooden floors and old cabinets, popular with locals and visitors alike. The old-fashioned shop is a huge maze of small fascinating rooms, chock-a-block full, each dedicated to a special household category: for example, fancy or practical cookware; brushes of every shape and texture; tools; decorative items; even antique toys. So if you’re looking for a child’s butterfly catcher, for example, you’ve come to the right place.

Maison Empereur

It’s located near La Canebière, the main thoroughfare, named for canèbe, the Provençal word for hemp, after a hemp factory once located there (though some claim the street was named for the American soldiers who strolled down the street drinking cans of beer!). Nearby the vibe is quite a contrast to the Old Port with the lively marché de Capucins, surrounded by many North African groceries, bakeries and couscous restaurants.

A short climb brings you to atmospheric cours Julien, a bit edgy, where graffiti-splashed buildings have been turned into cafés, casual bars, theatres and cozy restaurants such as le Bistro du Cours. On weekends, children play around the pleasant fountain and evenings are enlivened by a relaxed young crowd.

Cours Julien

La Joliette is another waterfront neighbourhood experiencing a revitalization. Ferries still depart from here to Corsica. Hotels and a shopping mall, Les Terraces du Port with fantastic coastal views, have popped up, and the abandoned 19th-century warehouses have been transformed into a buzzing marketplace called Les Docks with shops and eateries.

In Marseille one always has the feeling of being near the sea, so it is no surprise that one of its signature confections is a boat-shaped crunchy cookie called a navette. The oldest bakery in Marseille, Le Four des Navettes, is found on the route leading up to the medieval Abbaye de Saint-Victor – well worth a visit for its sober interior and ancient crypt carved out of the rock.

Le Four des Navettes

The bakery, acknowledged as part of the local cultural heritage, has been crafting navettes in its vaulted oven since 1781. Now in the hands of the Imbert family, the secret recipe has been passed down through the generations. The cookies are seductively flavoured with orange blossom, and we happily float away over the blue Mediterranean waters, enchanted by its heavenly scent.


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Noshing in Nashville Sun, 05 Apr 2020 14:37:45 +0000 Music City is one of the hottest dining destinations in the US.

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When I told a musician friend I was going to Nashville he laughed and said “I hope you like bar-bee-cue.”

I do like barbecue – a lot – but there’s been a revolution taking place in restaurant kitchens across the American south and the word is that Nashville’s dining scene is jumping. These days Music City has much more to offer than ribs and brisket.

Downtown Nashville’s architecture is a mix of old and new, with heritage buildings and high-rises rubbing shoulders beneath a skyline dominated by construction cranes. The economy is booming and Nashville is currently outpacing development in all other Tennessee cities, and many others across the USA. New residents are flooding in and the culinary scene is exploding. More than a hundred new restaurants opened in 2018 alone. And perhaps more significant than the increase in restaurant numbers is the growing diversity of the dining scene.

Nashville skyline at night

Sean Brock is a name you will hear not only in Nashville (where his former restaurant Husk set the gold standard for farm-to-fork dining) but throughout the South, from chefs who have been inspired by his reimagining of traditional foods. Southerners are pretty traditional when it comes to dinner. Fried chicken, meat and two sides, biscuits and gravy, sweet tea, and (yes) barbecue, are the foods that speak of home and family. Rather than turn his back on these culinary roots, Brock and the chefs who follow his credo have chosen to celebrate them.

Music Row

Nashville is one boisterous, neon-vibrant town but its pulsing core is surrounded by green hills and quiet rural communities. Most native Nashvillians are only one or two generations away from life on a farm where food was homegrown and locally sourced, and intimately tied to the Tennessee land and seasons. The arts of pickling, bottling, preserving and generally making do with what’s at hand have not been forgotten. Chefs like the Beard-awarded Brock (“the most conspicuously gifted American chef of his generation” according to Time Magazine), and those who have taken up his championship of regional cooking, are bringing a modern culinary sensibility to Southern foodways that have sustained generations.

Simple Supper Tomatoes

Brock describes his culinary vision as “the repatriation of the southern pantry.” In restaurants all across Nashville, this revolution is unfolding. At Mason’s, an upscale cocktail lounge decorated with the eponymous canning jars, the menu boasts “tried and true Southern provisions.” But someone has been tampering with tradition. Nashville Hot Chicken (the city’s signature dish) comes tucked into a steamed Chinese bun, with a sprightly garnish of fresh chile. Locally farmed rib eye of beef is served raw, with a herb salad, in miniature tacos. Smoked bacon, still redolent of forest and ember, fills little tarts topped with wisps of endive. Familiar foods, approached with fresh imagination.

Chef Trey Ciocca

At The Farm House, chef Trey Cioccia demonstrates that when it comes to fresh seasonal ingredients, less is often more. North Carolina trout is sweet and buttery, its pearlescent skin deliciously crisped. On the side, a simple salad of shaved vegetables (squash, radish, carrot) with peppery sprigs of watercress balanced by a gentle vinaigrette; and a platter of crispy pig ears. On my companions’ plates, a pork chop cooked sous vide rests on a bed of pecan-studded dirty rice; fat scallops seared in butter and thyme come with a side of gouda-enriched grits. All superb. Cioccia’s cooking, and the restaurant’s rustic décor (barn doors, rough-hewn timbers and salvaged farmhouse antiques) channel the spirit of his grandfather’s 100-acre farm. And in honouring that tradition, Farm House closes its doors every Sunday, so that staff can sit down to dinner with their families.

Next, a burger slam dunk. And not in a restaurant but a brewery. Tennessee Brew Works offers high quality, locally inspired craft beers — on tap, and in dishes that make up a short but creative menu of bar food. The Five Beer Burger — bun, patty, pickles, ketchup and the Southern condiment known as  Comeback Sauce are each made with a different house brew – is brilliant. And the place is pretty cool too, with vintage music posters on exposed brick walls and a stage where local musicians perform. According to founder and owner Christian Spears, ten years ago there was only one craft brewery in Tennessee, now it’s the fastest growing industry in the state. And says Spears, good beer deserves good food.

Five Beer Burger at Tennessee Brew Works

I find more good food at Josephine, a casual yet sophisticated establishment that is buzzing with activity on a weekday evening in Nashville’s 12 South district. The décor is sleek and eclectic, with black and white tile floor, a large central bar and long dining tables made from refinished bowling alley lanes. The style of cooking, described by chef Andy Little as “modern American,” is a glorious celebration of tastes and textures.

Peach and snap pea salad

A tangle of braised beef tongue with caramelized onions and horseradish, rich and unctuous, is balanced with a salad of sugar snap peas, peaches, ricotta and mint. A summery dish of cucumber, sweet onion, yuzu and garden herbs is as pretty as a picture, and light on the palate. A fat pork chop gets a sorghum vinegar glaze and a topknot of charred slaw. On the side, Bibb lettuce with thinly sliced radishes, bacon, country bread croutons and a buttermilk ranch dressing. Everything is local, fresh, and executed with finely honed technique. It’s the kind of cooking you’d expect to find in a fine-dining place downtown, but in Nashville, exciting eateries are popping up all over.

Maneet Chauhan

Not long ago, the Music City dining scene experienced a shakeup with the arrival of Maneet Chauhan, a Food Network celebrity of Punjabi-American descent, with an effervescent personality and energy to spare. After relocating to Nashville from New York, Chauhan opened four restaurants in as many years.  Chauhan Ale & Masala House and Chaatable serve Indian cuisine; Tànsŭo upscale Chinese; and Mockingbird is an American diner concept, with a menu that is all over the map, from France to Korea and back. In a town with conservative eating habits, Chauhan threw open the doors to global influences, emboldening local chefs to take more risks, and diners to be more adventurous. Combined with a new respect for local ingredients, this willingness to take familiar foods in different directions is at the core of contemporary restaurant cooking in Nashville. I wasn’t surprised to learn that eight Nashvillean chefs and restaurateurs are among the James Beard Award semifinalists announced for 2020.

Martin’s BBQ

And finally, there was barbecue. Very good barbecue.  If you time it right, at Martin’s BBQ Joint you will see a whole hog, burnished to glossy, crisp perfection, hauled out of a glowing pit and chopped up with a couple of flying hatchets by a guy in rubber boots. Then you’ll tuck into the best pig feast you ever had. And no, Martin’s isn’t a third-generation operation. It’s a start up by a Texas-born Wall Street refugee who moved to Nashville in 2006 and opened what Bon Appetit magazine named the best new barbecue spot in America. Touché y’all!

Grilled Ratatouille
Grilled Ratatouille


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A Return to Cuba Tue, 31 Mar 2020 19:02:28 +0000 In Havana, some things change, some stay the same.

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For the past century, many Canadians fleeing the bitter cold of winter have enjoyed Cuba’s favourable climate, beaches, colonial architecture and distinct cultural history. Although relations between Cuba and the United States deteriorated rapidly after the Cuban Revolution, Canada still had a strong bond with the island nation, so much so that former leader Fidel Castro flew to Montreal to serve as a pallbearer at the state funeral of his longtime friend and ally, Pierre Trudeau. Today, more than one-third of annual visitors to Cuba are Canadian.

The first time I visited Cuba was on an inaugural circumnavigation by an international cruise ship in 2013. We visited various ports, many filled with wide-eyed islanders who had not seen a large passenger ship for nearly half a century. At that time, using the Internet to look for accommodation and make bookings was difficult.

But just a few years later much has changed.

After landing in Varadero, we drove along the main Via Blanca, carved through dense tropical forest, and crossed the spectacular Bacunayagua Bridge that spans a deep canyon and the Yumuri valley, some 360 feet below. Near the lookout are several souvenir shops, a restaurant and an open-air bar serving only one drink… delicious Pina Coladas made from fresh pineapple and rich coconut cream. The barman handed us the rum bottle so we could decide how strong we’d prefer this tropical elixir. A wonderful welcome!

Bacunayagua bridge

In Havana, it was impressive to see how the historic city has come alive since my last visit. Back then, much of the Old City and the major national buildings were either in a state of disrepair or wrapped in scaffolding. The famed 87-year-old Hotel Nacional de Cuba, an important symbol of the area’s history, culture and identity, has played host to many international celebrities and dignitaries, from Churchill to Sinatra. When I last saw her, the grande dame overlooking the harbour, seawall and city was looking rather tired and unkempt and in need of a major facelift. Today, the interiors have been renovated to bring back some of the former elegance and the spacious grounds have undergone improved landscaping. But this is only a scratch on the surface as much of the city is still in dire need of revitalization and the funds to prevent much of the colonial architecture from falling into irreversible states of disrepair.


Relaxing under an aged banyan tree at the hotel’s outdoor Creole La Barraca Restaurant conjured up images of Hemingway’s sojourn in Havana as surely not much has changed, especially the limited food distribution and menus.  I was served a modest portion of overcooked shrimp sitting on a bed of shredded cabbage with a dollop of Thousand Island style dressing, a drizzle of mayonnaise and ketchup, and a lime wedge garnish.  To my surprise, a fish filet was decently grilled but was thrown together with the constant duo of rice and black beans and a few morsels of boiled pumpkin garnished with coconut shards. I felt like going into the kitchen to give a food styling class, but the meal was comforting and satisfying. On an island surrounded by tropical waters filled with seafood, I was also amazed that my fish was from Egypt… so much for local sourcing and sustainability!

With the government’s arms now open for tourism dollars and the creation of a tourism department, international hotel chains have emerged, bringing investment and opening new properties to keep pace with the demand of the country’s expanding hospitality sector.

The beautiful and tranquil Hotel Parque Central, built in 1877, is surrounded by historic buildings including the Gran Teatro de la Habana, the elaborate Inglaterra Hotel (soon to be reopened by Marriott) and the newly opened luxurious Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, housed in the former Manzana de Gómez, an early 20th-century building that was Cuba’s first shopping mall.

The Parque Central is comprised of two historic buildings whose original Colonial and Belle Époque facades have been saved and new construction built within. The renovation captures the elegant ambiance of the former space, with an airy, greenhouse-style lobby and lounge (complete with a cigar trolley!), designed around lush foliage and water features.

The rooms have been modernized with air conditioning, comfortable beds and linens, fully equipped bathrooms and wifi. I felt rather uncomfortable as the majority Cuban homes lack what many of us take for granted as everyday comforts, and because I know how much the major hotels are charging compared to what their staff wages are.

Cigar sommelier at the Parque Central Hotel

Walking through Old Havana, I marvelled at the street life and everyday interactions in the core of the original city confined within massive stone walls behind the Malecon seawall. Its maze of narrow streets contains an amazing collection of Baroque, Neoclassical and Late Spanish Colonial architecture. Unfortunately many buildings have fallen into ruin. But the ones that have been restored, housing boutique hotels, cafes, restaurants and shops, are glorious.

Even better is the lively spirit of this area at night when the throngs of tourists and horse drawn buggies have departed and the cooler night air brings out families and friends and social gatherings sway to the musical beats of Afro-Cuban baobab, rhumba and salsa. Not to mention the aromatic scent of cigars perfuming the evening.

I met with my friend Alessandra Quaglia, of Provence Marinaside Restaurant in Vancouver. As a competitive dancer, she first came to Havana a decade ago attending the International Salsa Festival. Three years ago she decided to stay and planned to establish a salsa bar, which opened this past year. Called Bar Salsa Habana, this intimate club offers music with a DJ for dancers, as well as a small tapas menu and a reasonably priced cocktail list.

Halibut Citrus Ceviche
Halibut Citrus Ceviche

We discussed some of the hardships of living in Cuba. Food distribution was particularly difficult after 2017’s Hurricane Irma, Alessandra explained. Basic staples such as eggs and even simple vegetables like broccoli took months to return to grocery shelves. Basic groceries are normally available, she said, but if you see anything you want (such as cauliflower or chocolate), you should grab it at once as you’re never sure if you’ll be able to find it again. But my friend has a genuine love for the Cuban people and their slowly emerging country. She has nothing but praise and deep admiration for the Cubans’ strong character and resilience, and the physical beauty that results from their rich melting pot history.

For the standard (or more often sub-standard) mojito or daiquiri, most visitors head to the touristy bars that Hemingway supposedly frequented in the 1940s, La Bodequita del Media and El Floridita. Instead, Alessandra took me to El del Frente, a popular bar with wildly colourful 1950s outdoor furniture. It has a modest and fairly inexpensive menu running from starters such as empanadillas, croquettes and ceviches, to pastas and entrees of schnitzel, grilled chicken and steak… and superb hand-crafted cocktails.

Another restaurant with a local feel is the busy El Aljibe, famed for the house specialty of marinated grilled chicken that attracted such customers as actor Jack Nicholson and former president Jimmy Carter. The original restaurant opened in 1947 and closed shortly after the Revolution. The palapa-roofed new incarnation that opened in 1993 has once again become a signature restaurant in Havana.

Vintage ride in Havana

To experience a true countryside atmosphere, head out of the city to a couple of fincas, agricultural estates that have farmhouse or cottage restaurants. Opening the fincas to tourism over the last decade is a government project promoting private businesses.

On the outskirts of Havana is Il Divino, located close to Hemingway’s Finca Vigia. A visit to both locales makes a great afternoon trip out of the busy city. Il Divino estate houses a large Mediterranean-style villa with a nicely decorated terrace and alfresco dining areas or ranchons, as well as an impeccably maintained botanical garden. Its specialty is wood and charcoal cooking, which dates back to the African slave days, when the estate was first formed. Pork, marinated in sour orange, salt, cumin and pepper, is naturally smoked with red mangrove that gives it a unique aroma.

Portrait of Hemingway on safari

A more rustic and provincial atmosphere is found at Finca Coincidencia, located on the Carretera Central towards Varadero. This communal eco-farm has orchards of mango and guava trees, sustainable gardens that supply an on-site restaurant, and a small ceramics workshop where you can participate in classes or purchase wares. This is truly a farm-to table operation where you’ll find simple and satisfying home-style dishes, showcasing the best from the gardens. The menus vary depending what has been harvested in season.

Lunch at Finca Coincidencia


Although the US government’s travel and investment policies towards Cuba have changed since the Obama administration, it was pleasant not to see the kind of American enterprises — such as fast food restaurants and coffee shops — that have taken over in countries such as China and Vietnam. Cuba does need economic assistance, but I was impressed to see that the growth of private enterprise is happening slowly. Viva Cuba!


Renowned Canadian chef, food stylist, writer and broadcaster Nathan Fong passed away on 30 March, 2020. Ed.

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Laidback Lake Geneva Mon, 30 Mar 2020 18:46:47 +0000 Discover the old fashioned charm of a Wisconsin playground.

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Where in the world? Wisconsin USA.

My late great aunt Jessie always carried in her purse, next to her compact and lipstick, a bag of sugar cubes and a bottle of bitters. Sometimes she’d toss in a jar of Maraschino cherries if she thought her bartender (my dad) might be low on them. “Be prepared” was her guiding motto and the Old Fashioned was her daily drink(s).

I did not inherit a love for that cocktail — always associating it with the elderly and the eccentric — but a few glorious autumn days spent in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, had me looking for a bigger purse.

I will credit Stephanie Klett, the exuberant head of Visit Lake Geneva, for introducing me to the Old Fashioned, Wisconsin-style. We were seated beside each other in one of the lovely private dining rooms of the Grand Geneva Resort. I was about to ask for a glass of red wine, when she suggested, in a manner impossible to refuse, that I give the state cocktail a try. Not fashioned, as my great aunt would have expected, with whiskey, but with brandy.  “If it’s a Wisconsin Old Fashioned,” declared Klett, “then it has to be a brandy Old Fashioned.” What’s more… “It has to be Korbel brandy, Angostura bitters and it has to be sweet. At least it does for me: I do extra cherries, and they have to be dark cherries, and 7-Up, straight up.”

Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned I was handed was a pretty sophisticated rendition of the classic, and I nursed it long enough to discover it married mighty well with Grand Geneva chef Nelly Buleje’s lamb. Succulent chops were set on a fantastic salad of fried artichokes and marble potatoes (recipe here, thanks chef), spiked with orange zest. I figured it was that orange – both muddled in my glass and perched on its brim – that made it sing with the salad.

It certainly whet my appetite to learn more about the cocktail. As luck would have it, the Maxwell Mansion in downtown Lake Geneva holds guided classes. Our class took place in neither the 19th-century Apothecary Bar of the inn, nor its 1920s Speakeasy, but in the larger ballroom, pretty in blue and dripping in crystal. In charge of all things beverage at the Maxwell is Rene Ratchek.  Our thirsty group arrived to find she’d laid out the required fixings on the white-napped tables: sugar cubes, oranges and lemons, Angostura bitters, Italian Luxardo cherries, Korbel brandy, a tin of soda and one of 7-Up.  We were each given ice, a cocktail shaker, a strainer, a high ball and patient instructions for building the Wisconsin Old Fashioned. We ‘crafted’ the classic sweet version (all 7-Up) and learned that cutting the drink with soda is called a ‘Sour.’  After many sips of both (for comparison sake) I learned that I lean more sour than sweet. I learned as well, that a brisk hike after a Maxwell Mansion mixology class is a wise thing to do.

Cocktail class at Maxwell Mansion

As luck would have it, the resort town of Lake Geneva is perched on the northeast coast of Geneva Lake (yes, the order matters… and I managed to muddle the names of town and its lake more often than the cocktail). The lake is spring-fed and ancient, created some 10,000 years ago in the wake of a creeping glacier. With a fabulous footpath encircling it that I would end up exploring daily.

For the current pleasure of the lake’s Shore Path we can thank the Native American Potawatomi (Neshnabe) tribe — or at least for its rough beginnings, when the track would have connected every facet of their 19th-century life. Today, it remains (but for puddles) an unrestricted 21-mile public footpath passing birdhouses, gardens and treehouses, stone benches, elegant pagodas, libraries and a goodly number of great estates. The surface of the trail mutates from tidy flagstone to rutted dirt, crushed stone to trodden grass, mosaic tiles to wood siding, each created and maintained (by law) by the owners of the property it passes. To the moneyed owners may belong the lavish homes, grounds, gardens and stark white piers (almost all Geneva Lake’s piers are white); but to the people, the common folk, goes a three-foot wide swath of land along the water’s edge, a path that interrupts the otherwise uninterrupted pleasure of estate and pier.  This common person, at least, was as grateful as she was gobsmacked.


Shore Path home

Fortified with a strong coffee and an excellent pumpkin scone from the Avant Café & Cycle (its slogan: “Great Bikes, Great Coffee, Great Community”) I walked a second section of the path the next day, only this time with a deeper understanding of what I was passing. A boat tour on the 75-foot Walworth II (it replaced the original Walworth marine mail boat from the early 1900s) provided the history lesson — a running narration, both fascinating and funny, of the history, lore and gossip of these lakeside properties.  Most of the estates we passed have deep ties to Chicago’s richest families. These are, or were, the titans of industry and philanthropy (think Schwinn, Selfridge, Wrigley, Wacker…) who had discovered the charms of lake life, taken the newly operational train to Geneva Lake to get away from city life, or (as was the case for many families) were awaiting their city-home’s rebuild after The Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

Shore path

I managed six of the 21 miles one morning. Which meant my lunch was well earned. I can highly recommend the wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza at the restaurant Oakfire, close to the Lake Geneva Visitor’s Centre, enjoyed with the last of the summer strawberries sliced into a spinach and Gorgonzola salad. The classic pizza margherita is always, for me, the test of a pizza joint’s mettle and this one, with its chewy-crisp, lightly charred crust, robust tomato sauce, dobs of fior de latte cheese and a scattering of basil leaves, passed big time.


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Ann Arbor Mon, 30 Dec 2019 18:53:34 +0000 This food lover's city has roots in political activism.

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It’s a crisp spring morning in Dexter, a rural town on the outskirts of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but here in the front parlour of Cornman Farms’ vintage farmhouse, things are getting a little heated. It’s a round table discussion about the local food scene and the f bombs have started flying.

Cornman Farms

I’m sitting with group of people who have a passionate interest in Ann Arbor’s culinary culture and we’ve started talking about big ag.

John Britton is head distiller at Ann Arbor Distillery, a tightly focused, field-to-glass operation that produces handcrafted spirits using only Michigan-grown grain and botanicals. Jason McNeely manages Ollie Food + Spirits, a restaurant in the nearby town of Ypsilanti with a hyperlocal, seasonally driven menu that draws from the same agricultural base. David Klingenberger is chief fermenting officer and co-owner of The Brinery, a farmhouse operation that handcrafts small-batch, naturally fermented pickles from locally grown vegetbles. Kathy Sample is the founder of Argus Farm Stop, a retail outlet in downtown Ann Arbor where farmers can sell their produce seven days a week, year round.

Locally grown produce

The fellow cursing is Keiron Hales, chef/owner of Cornman Farms and our host this morning. He is frustrated because although he cooks from scratch for his family, his 6-year-old son wants to eat sugary cake muffins and other nutritionally poor foods that are served with school lunches. “I told him he can have candy if he learns to make it himself,” says Hale, whose blog includes a recipe for home-made jelly beans, among other wholesome treats.

Sample is mad because regulations made by and for large-scale agricultural operations are making it impossible for small-scale farmers to stay in business. They can’t afford to adhere to building codes that are designed for factory production sites or the stringent health and safety regulations that inhibit farm gate sales. She founded Argos Farm Stop in an effort to connect farmers and their customers and to make good food accessible to the community.

“Pickle Wizard” Klingenberger is a soft-spoken force at the Cornman Farms round table but comes to life when I meet him later at The Brinery, surrounded by bubbling barrels filled with vegetables in various stages of transformation. The former craft brewer and self-described hippy farmer now processes 200,000 pounds of vegetables a year that are grown on local, family-owned farms. To Klingenberger, pickles are not just a highly nutritious food, they are a way of creating a bridge between grower and eater, a vital relationship that is helping to redefine the food culture of the region.

Pickle wizard David Klingenberger


Ann Arbor is a mid-sized city, with a compact historic downtown energized by the presence of the University of Michigan campus and a world renowned medical centre. It has tree-lined streets, a vibrant arts, music and cultural scene, plus a pretty hinterland of wooded hills and rolling farmland, intersected by the Huron River. And notably, Ann Arbor has an energetic culinary community, with a disproportionately large number of independent restaurants and artisan food producers for a city its size.

Ann Arbor’s activist-driven culinary culture owes much to the efforts of two college kids who went to school here in the 1970s. Ari Weinzweig and Paul Saginaw opened the New York-style Zingerman’s Delicatessen in 1982, largely because their adopted Midwestern town was devoid of a decent bagel.

That storefront started a movement that now encompasses twelve local food businesses, plus a training institute and nationwide mail-order business. Zingerman’s Bakehouse began as an offshoot of the deli, providing bagels, and bread for their signature Reuben sandwich. Next came the Zingerman’s Creamery, to keep up with demand for truly fresh cream cheese. Coffee and candy followed, as did a Roadhouse and other restaurants, with each new enterprise co-founded by Zingerman’s but independently run by a passionate individual.

The Zingermans model of expansion and inculcating new businesses, if not unique, is certainly interesting. Every employee who joins the Zingerman’s workforce is offered a “pathway to partnership” that includes training opportunities and assistance in all aspects of running a business. Every new enterprise that comes under the corporate umbrella starts, not with a desire to expand the Zingerman’s portfolio, but with an individual who has the energy and burning desire to make something exceptionally well.

Ari Weinzweig

This unusual business model comes into focus, albeit in a roundabout way — when we learn that Ari Weinzweig is a proponent of anarchism, particularly the type espoused by the late nineteenth century feminist radical Emma Goldman, whom he studied at the University of Michigan in the 1970s.

Anarchism, by strict definition, calls for the abolition of any form of government. But Goldman was not opposed to the concept of a central organizing body per se – she maintained that an organization should not be an hierarchical institution, but a cooperative structure whose sole purpose is to enhance the lives of the people who are part of it.

“This has been a part of our philosophy at Zingerman’s since we opened in 1982 – creating a business committed to helping everyone it touches!” writes Weinzweig, who has penned a number of books on business management. The Zingerman’s community of businesses is intended not as a pyramidal structure that funnels benefit towards the top but — in the spirit of Goldman — a horizontal network of mutually profitable relationships.

The single minded attention to quality — of ingredients and their preparation — is a thread that is now deeply woven into the fabric of the Ann Arbor culinary scene. The farmhouse breakfast that Kieron Hales laid out for us after the round table was a perfect example of how good unfussy food, prepared with fine ingredients and great attention to detail, can be. Slow scrambled eggs, Yorkshire puddings, smoky bacon, clotted cream, fresh raspberries, sausages made the night before, tomatoes slowly roasted over three days, home-made peach jam, and a raised pastry pie filled with mashed potatoes were among the old-fashioned treats lined up on a long counter in his gleaming kitchen. After years of top-level cheffing (he’s cooked for presidents and royalty), Hales is living his dream. Partnership with Zingerman’s enabled him to buy and renovate the historic Cornman farmhouse and build a catering and event business around produce grown on the farm and sourced from like-minded local purveyors.

Breakfast at Cornman Farms

The newest addition to the Zingerman’s Community of Businesses is Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant that is taking the North American experience of that cuisine to the next level. Self-taught chef Ji Hye Kim missed her Korean family’s cooking after moving to New York and started studying her grandmother’s recipes. That interest developed into a deep fascination with Korean culinary history and ultimately, after securing a counter job at Zingerman’s Deli, to the opening of her restaurant. This is no ordinary food – yes there is bibimbap and Korean fried chicken, but also miso-buttered asparagus with an oozy poached egg, enoki mushroom japchae with chewy potato noodles, mushroom-stuffed bao, and the spicy rice flour batons called tteokbokki, each dish extraordinarily well crafted and exploding with colour and flavour.


Kim adheres to the Zingerman’s philosophy that everyone who is part of a business should earn a living wage. No-one employed at Miss Kim needs to work tables for tips or take a second job in order to survive. Kim is proud of the fact that her success is shared with the people who helped her achieve it.

Ji Hye Kim

The spirit of cooperation and partnership that Weinzweig and Saginaw inculcated in their businesses pervades the Ann Arbor food scene. The city is littered with Zingerman’s alumni and others who embody the same entrepreneurial verve and commitment to quality that earned Zingerman’s Deli national acclaim and brought Ann Arbor to the attention of the culinary cognoscenti. Craft breweries, craft cocktail bars (many with live music), artisan food producers, and restaurants helmed by talented, creative chefs abound. The bar has been set high in this food-savvy city, and in order to survive, restaurants have to be good.

And of course no visit to Ann Arbor would be complete without a trip to the place where it all began. Join the line, place your order for the Reuben, find a seat and in a very short time you’ll be enjoying a sarnie (enlivened by David Klingenberger’s sauerkraut) that not only tickled the palate of Barrack Obama and deserves a place in the sandwich hall of fame, but also encapsulates the unique personality of a very tasty Midwestern town.

Honeyed Ham Pancakes

Click here for a list of great places to eat and drink in Ann Arbor.


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